Working For The Man

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It struck me today that I haven’t as yet told you much about my beautiful new Ruby Slipper studio space, even though I have now been working here for a few months. And come to think about it, I don’t think I’ve really told you much about how I went from being an academic-in-waiting to being a full-time creative, a gainfully self-employed writer. So this blog is about how I went from ‘working for the man’ to working for me – with a happy helping of images of yours truly in the communal studio space I am delighted to call my office.

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I am sometimes asked how I came to be a blogger, and how exactly I came to be fully self-employed. The questions are at heart always about ‘legitimacy’, as if suddenly a big stamp came from the sky and pronounced me ‘the real thing’. Like all things, becoming something (whether a writer, a doctor, a friend, a great cook or a wife) is a work of time, patience and persistence. How boring that sounds. But it is through those dull graces and following my intuition that I have come to be an independent creative person.

I am sure that I was never meant to be anyone’s permanent employee. Having grown up as an only child, reared by two artists – normalcy and following other’s patterns wasn’t something that came easily. I thought that academia would be the right world for me, a place where I could be inquisitive and an environment that fostered deep thinking. Having completed an Arts Degree (oh, arts degree! how I sing your praises and defend your value to countless naysayers who suggest that accounting or marketing are more serious and practical options) at the University of Melbourne and University College Dublin, I finessed my research skills and learned about both the bell curve of academic results and the relative conservatism of tertiary institutions. No, that wasn’t the way for me.

Image inset above: at the Ruby Slipper studio which I share with several other creatives including an advertising  and marketing company, a fashion designer, a glass-blowing studio, an industrial designer and an artist. You could vacuum pack stylish hipster in our workplace.

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Ending up in Europe post-degree and not sure exactly what I wanted to do, I managed to find a beautiful apartment in Edinburgh and a job managing a Harrolds-esque men’s parfum and shaving goods shop called Penhaligon’s. In retrospect, I’m not sure I was the best fit for a managerial role in retail. I was 21, I was managing a staff of 7 people – all of whom were substantially older than me and enjoying a much better knowledge of the product we sold. This role was a real gift. I learned on my feet, being routinely shipped up and down from Edinburgh to London for training, learning merchandising and the basic economics of running a business – on someone else’s account. I also hob-nobbed with a little of Edinburgh society (Penhaligon’s is a very ‘ye olde world’ brand with a strong establishment following) and began to see how cross-promotion worked. After just over a year, it was time for me to return to Australia. I missed my home and family, and opportunity that Australia still offered to a young person.

Image inset: Wearing Gorman, French Connection cardigan, Samantha Wills ring and Ren lipstick from Mecca Cosmetica.

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Upon my return to Australia, I was once again at a crossroads. There were lots of crossroads in my early twenties. My advice? Just keep moving, but make sure each ‘pitstop’ is given 110%. Don’t be faffing around trying to be a hundred different things at one time. If you’re in retail, be a manager. If you’re in real estate (as I was at this stage), be the best realtor you could be. Working in as brutal and unforgiving an industry as real estate has set me in good stead for my career as an independent creative. My family and friends were shocked by my decision to work in such a maligned industry, seemingly full of shysters and rip-off agents quick for a buck. (This is both untrue and unfair, I’ll have you know.)

The efforts I made to adapt to a foreign business (and in the first instance, uncreative) environment where learning to have hard conversations was crucial soon bore fruit for me. I did well in my role, becoming a sales agent and auctioneer. I was very proud of my achievements. My hard work gave me the opportunity to buy properties and become independent very early in my twenties, and also made me relatively numb to the risk of self employment. Risk and making money based entirely on what you yourself achieve through your actions is the reason most people will not become self employed. Estate agents are (in the whole) entirely self-employed, ultimately earning only what they sell.

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I worked as an estate agent for six-odd years, learning to prospect and build business and relationships from scratch. I overcame worries about asking people for ‘the business’, I became adept at talking about money and negotiating. I developed a strong bullshit meter, and continue to listen to my gut when it comes to business partners and collaboration. I watched multiple new databases start from scratch, and realised that there’s no magic to business – it is literally just hard work and doing the often menial and repetitive chores that others are too lazy to complete with grace.

What has allowed me to exit the traditional world of employer-employee relations in an office? To be truly myself every day and to let my talent for storytelling shine? It is the capacity to business build from nothing paired with a relative fearlessness about regular income that has made me successful. I am pleased to say that the man I work for now – is me. As Ruby Slipper celebrates four years of business, I am so grateful to my business partners, clients and colleagues who have supported me as my  brand has grown. I’m not sure what the coming years will hold for me as a professional creative, but looking back at what has come to pass so far, I am counting my lucky stars.

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